You may have used the word 'but' many times. It can be used a conjunction, an adverb, a preposition, and a noun. In this lesson, we will discover more.

How to Use "But" in English?

'But' can act as a coordinating conjunction, an adverb, a preposition, and a noun. In this lesson, we will learn all about it.

Functions of 'But'

'But' as a Coordinating Conjunction


As was stated above, 'but' can function as a coordinating conjunction. To be more exact, since 'but' is used to show contrast in two ideas, it is mostly in the category of 'concession conjunctions'. Below, we are going to see how:

  • When we want to add two sentences to another. However, the second one opposes what was mentioned in the first one. Take a look:

I really wish I could help you, but I don't want to.

As you can see, the second sentence differs from the first one.

Gloriana has her hands full right now, but she can practice with her daughter in the afternoon.

  • When we want to indicate an exception, we can use 'but' as a conjunction. Take a look:

Isn't there anything else to eat but bread and milk?

Here, 'but' can be replaced with 'except' and the sentence will still remain the same.

There's nothing you could do but listen to her sorrow.

  • When we want to emphasize on the second part of the sentence, we use 'but'. Look:

She cancelled our plans not once, but several times.

I don't want to travel to that island, but to live there.


Please note that we never use 'but' at the beginning of a sentence in formal, written English.

She told me she likes you, but she is afraid to get close to you.

We can do nothing, but to wait for the final results.

Position in a Sentence

As you know, coordinating conjunctions are used to connect words, phrases, and clauses. 'But' is used to show the contrast between two words, phrases, or clauses. Please note that both ideas are equally important. Look below:

I wanted to talk this out, but you keep pushing me away.

As you can see, the two ideas oppose one another.

That girl is caring but distant.

Here, two words are joined by the conjunction.


Please note that if we use 'but to join two clauses, we must have a comma before the conjunction. However, there is no need for commas when joining two words. Look:

My friend is kind but shy.

The girls are moving to the east, but they were supposed to stand where they were.

'But' as a Preposition

As was stated, 'but' can function as a preposition. Below, we are going to learn about the different prepositions it can be:


'But' as a Concession Preposition

'But' can be a preposition and come before nouns and noun phrases. Since it shows the contrast between the two ideas it connects, it is called a concession preposition. When we want to state an exception, we use it as a preposition. Study the following examples:

You care about everyone, but me.

Susan is going to walk you home everyday but Friday.

Position in a Sentence

Since we do not begin a sentence with 'but' in formal English, we can never start a sentence with a prepositional phrase of 'but'. It always comes before nouns or noun phrases. Take a look:

Everyone was paying attention, but me.

They are going to visit us everyday, but today.

'But' as an Adverb

As stated above, 'but' is also an adverb. Below, we are going to analyze the kinds of adverbs it can be:


'But' as an Adverb of Concession

Another function of 'but' is to act as an adverb. It can modify verbs or adjectives. It is called 'concession' because it shows contrast. Look at the following examples for more clarification:

The least they could do is but help.

She is but a mere ghost now.

Position in a Sentence

As it was stated above, 'but' as an adverb can be used to modify verbs and adjectives, so it comes before them. Take a look at the following examples:

All they can do is but wait.

Here, it is modifying a verb.

This place is but a ghost spot of old memories.

Here, it is used to modify an adjective.

'But' as a Noun


When we want to emphasize that something will happen, regardless of any objections, we can use 'but' as a noun. Take a look:

No buts cause we are going on a summer vacation this week.

As you can see, regardless of the addressee's objection, there is emphasis on the action to happen.

I do not want to hear any buts.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'but' here is functioning as a noun, it can be the subject , object of the verb, or the object of a preposition. It can also come after negative markers. Take a look:

I said no buts here.

Here, 'but' is the object and has come after a negative marker.

Too many ifs and buts are for weak people who do not take a step to their dreams.

Here, 'but' is part of the noun clause.

Spoken Uses of 'But'

'But' can also be used in different contexts only when we are having a conversation with someone. Take a look below to understand how it can be used in spoken English:

  • When we want to respond to someone with a strong emotion, we use 'but':

A : I wasn't able to make it.

B : But at least you tried it.

A : The teacher belittled our victory today.

B : But that's our greatest achievement.

  • When we want to disagree with someone, we can use 'but'. Look:

A : I thought she could dance as beautifully as she had said.

B : But she didn't.

A : It could've been worse, Tony.

B : But it didn't, so stop making such a big fuss over it.

  • When we want to emphasize something or someone, we use 'but'. Look:

Angie wants no one, but no one, to talk to.

She was talented, but I mean talented.

  • We can also use 'but' to change the subject or state a different idea. Take a look below:

But the point is, where do we begin to understand the meaning of the world?

But let's get back to the main topic.

  • We can use 'but' after phrases like 'I'm sorry' or 'excuse me'. Study the following examples below:

I'm sorry, but I am not in a position to answer that question.

Excuse me, but you cannot enter here.


It might come in handy to know that in Australian English, we can put 'but' at the end of the sentence when it is functioning as an adverb. Take a look:

He was a nice guy but.

But vs. However

'But' and 'however' both show contrast and contradiction. The only difference is that 'but' functions as a conjunction, and 'however' is used as an adverb.


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